Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Possible Organic Explanation for Michele Bachmann

I had an ah-ha moment today when I read about the Michele Bachmann migraine revelation.  I don't pretend to be a diagnostician, but I have read my Oliver Sacks and I  know some sufferers. What is fascinating about this neurological disorder is the pre-migraine "aura" experienced by many victims.  It has been described variously as a dream-like, religious experience or an LSD-like episode replete with visuals.  It may even be neurologically related to the "white light" phenomenon of the near-death experience, leading some people to embrace religion after coming back from the great beyond.

Bachmann has previously described a dream of God telling her to run for office.  The apostle Paul may have been undergoing a migraine aura when he suffered his sudden blindness and then had his vision of Jesus telling him to go forth.  The medieval mystic nun Hildegard of Bingen apparently tripped on so-called "scintillating scotoma" before her own blinding pain hit.

In a poem called "God Speaks to Me in Headache" LoveMinus0 writes:

When I get a migraine, I feel fundamentally religious
and drop to my knees in the pre-formatted position
for prayer: forgiveness, relief and reconciliation.

My temple is filled with holy resonance
and spiritual compression; eyes shut - doors sealed.
Hands grasp desperately over my ears, searching for
The Door.....
And beyond the mysticism of the aura, migraine sufferer Joan Didion writes:  “There certainly is what doctors call a ‘migraine personality,’ and that personality tends to be ambitious, inward, intolerant of error, rather rigidly organized, perfectionist."

Something to think about.  I now find myself actually empathizing with Michele Bachmann.  My desire to see her not become president has nothing to do with her health issues.  And whatever Rovian smear campaign that has sprung up accusing her of being some kind of drug addict is pretty despicable. 

Hildegard of Bingen's Migraine


Anonymous said...

I remember reading the Didion essay in my teen years and having no idea (thankfully) what she was describing. Years later, I had a colleague who suffered from terrible migraines. I once had to literally carry her out of the office and into a cab to send her home, and I was terrified about placing someone so vulnerable in a cab, but those were her instructions. She remained lucid throughout the migraines, just unbelievably distracted by pain.

On Bachmann's dreaded topic: Yesterday, KQED's Forum show did a special on marriage, and how it's changed from the boomer generation to mine.
A couple of points I found interesting:

1) the relatively young ages at which US boomers married was a bit of an anomaly that resulted from a booming post-war economy

2) in the US, marriage confers even fewer rights/benefits than it did in the post-war past

3) US divorce numbers are down largely because marriage is down

4) it's increasingly difficult in this economy for anyone to marry, as marriage has become, ultimately, what it used to be: a marker of social status, and a way for two individuals to further insulate themselves from the desperate unwashed

5) the bb generation's perception of marriage rests on a social model that is in itself based on an economy that no longer exists.

6) even if gay marriage becomes standard across the US, the number of gay individuals who can "benefit" from the institution's few and questionable benefits is actually very small, because marriage per se has become exclusionary

7) best line in show: "marriage used to be (for the bb generation) like the draft - now it's like getting into West Point."

8) despite the increasing difficulty of getting into this exclusive marriage club, society still favors couples who are married.

It was pretty interesting, and a little liberating to hear for us single people. And yes, it does make me wonder how the issue's been used to distract from the economy.

SPECIFICALLY: as social services are cut, I believe marriage has been used as a neoconservative stick with which to beat the populace into believing that their lack of financial prowess, coupled with their resulting inability to marry, is cause for self-condemnation, rather than cause for political action toward a more just economic landscape for EVERYONE, married or not. Apparently, there's a prof, Jaye Cee Whitehead, who puts forward A similar idea in an upcoming academic press book. An excerpt from her Times Op-Ed:

"As the Williams Institute has noted in papers about the economic benefits of same-sex marriage, expanding marriage rights would send a substantial number of economically struggling couples over the eligibility thresholds, shifting the financial responsibility from the state to the couple without any actual improvement in the couple’s economic well-being. One thing legal marriage does is obligate a couple to provide and care for each other, to ensure that they do not become the responsibility of the state. That isn’t a bad thing if you can afford to do it, but many gay men and lesbians cannot."


John in Lafayette said...

Actually, marriage is one of those things I've wondered about in terms of the value of governmental involvement. I understand why we have laws for married couples respecting visitation and inheritance rights, but why do we give preference to married couples for things like tax rates? When we use the power of the government to reward or penalize certain behaviors we need to be careful to ensure that government should be doing it in the first place.

What business does the government have encouraging people to get married? I wonder how many people have gotten married, at least in part, to take advantage of preferential tax rates. I imagine the number is not insignificant. I may be falling into the old correlation/causation trap, but the divorce rate in this country began to rise concurrent with the income tax as we know it today. I'll bet if someone regressed that the tax advantage would show up as being significant.

Just a thought.

Anyway, the larger point is there are unintended consequences for everything, and when it comes to doing things that go beyond guaranteeing our rights, providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare, the government needs to be very careful about what it does. I've never been sure how encouraging people to marry promotes the general welfare.

And that's the problem the anti-gay marriage people are confronted with. The constitution guarantees us all the equal protection of the law. So when it comes to gay marriage, opponents either have to get the government out of the marriage business altogether, or grant the same legal privileges that accrue to people by virtue of being married to ALL people. And no amount of state laws or amendments to state constitutions will ever override the fourteenth amendment to the US constitution.

Ciara O Diomasaigh said...

@Napoleon, You made some wonderful comments on Karen's post for Monday, July 18. They are so good that I hope Karen won't mind me re-posting them here.

First, a comment of my own. I'm probably still in some form of co-dependent relationship with Obama. I see how he completely non-progressive he is and I see how he has betrayed the people who elected him over and over again.

I still have difficulty, however, in seeing him as completely "bad." I see him do things that I deeply believe are bad, even horrible, but I've yet to relinquish all my emotional hope or ties to him.

Napoleon's comments help me understand Obama in a slightly different way. Here they are:

"President Obama seems to carry his mediating skills to an extreme in 3 ways. First, he sees himself initially, and perhaps throughout, as mediating between Democrats in Congress and Republicans in Congress, and not as a leader of the Democratic elected leadership negotiating with the Republican elected leadership.

"Second, he surprises the elected Democratic leadership with his proposals rather than sit down with them first to come together with agreed upon recommendations. Sometimes, the surprise is a double whammy as when the president informs the Democratic leadership after he has negotiated with the Republicans.

"Third, the president, in his mediating posture, loses sight of the value of educating the US public on what the Democratic Party has stood for and the positive gains this has achieved for the country. Instead, the president morphs this potential into " I believe..", "I will.." "As I said, I am ..", etc., a non educational moment.

The Democratic leadership in turns makes mistakes just as bad. When Obama acts in accordance with the script above, they may or may not register dissent. What they don't do, and need to do, is go public and state that the president did this without their knowledge, agreement, or involvement, and thus is acting solo and not as leader of the Party and as a result they owe no allegiance to the unilaterally declared proposals, and in any event they can't support the proposals because they are contrary to the values, programs, traditions, and goals of the Democratic party."

Anonymous said...

"So when it comes to gay marriage, opponents either have to get the government out of the marriage business altogether,"
I'm for THAT premise!
"or grant the same legal privileges that accrue to people by virtue of being married to ALL people."
That's a good option - if married volke get tax breaks merely for being hitched, then I too want tax breaks for being unhitched. Why not? One thing that fascinates me about the tax law re couples is that it favors couples with highly unequal incomes. A weird bit of social engineering. And no doubt part of the reason successful women are balking at marriage.


Ciara O Diomasaigh said...

Post-script to my own comment:

And now the shackles have, at least momentarily, fallen from even my eyes. As I re-read what I posted, above, wherein Napoleon describes Obama's actions, I suddenly see much more clearly just how bad Obama is.

Let's say, giving the guy the benefit of the doubt, that he honestly seems his role as that of some kind of "honest broker" between the Democrats and the Republicans. Let's just assume that for a moment. And then let's ask, "Is that how he behaves?"

And it's immediately clear that that's not how he behaves at all. To put it very bluntly, he constantly turns his head and coughs for Republicans. For Democrats (such as they are), he can't even be bothered to keep them informed.

It doesn't mean much these days to say that some officeholder or other is a Democrat. And Obama isn't even that.

He is a Republican wannabe.

Anonymous said...

"I still have difficulty, however, in seeing him as completely "bad." I see him do things that I deeply believe are bad, even horrible, but I've yet to relinquish all my emotional hope or ties to him."

This is what I find so baffling - why do so many people personalize their judgment of Obama? It's like with Bush. My friends could never just judge the policies on the merits - they had to mark him as "bad" or "evil". 
Bad and/or evil is neither the question nor the point. The point is: what are the POLICIES and solutions currently put forward by Obama, independent of distracting scenarios recently put forward for how blame can (AND WILL!) be shifted FROM Obama to Congress or bio-rhythms or astrological signs by those with a financial/political investment in Obama's possible second term.

What Napoleon is actually setting up is how Team Obama plans to excuse its potential 2012 loss.
The operative idea is similar to Winning Progressive's: obama has made mistakes, but in the end, the blame is shared not just among those in congress who are actually blameless (and we saw how they took down Eric Massa on sex charges for not capitulating on the public option - too easy!!!) but shared among blameless folk like me, for not giving more money and more time to the DNC/OFA. 

Under "how to help" at WP's site, there was a link to, you guessed it, the DNC fundraising site.

You don't have to make a personal judgment of Obama as a man. 

Judge the policies. 

That's reason. That's democracy. And that's the way forward from getting snookered a second time.


Anne Lavoie said...

Karen, it sounds like you may very well have identified the source of Bachmann's Godly inspiration.

This is going to get soooo ugly for her if her Republican standing continues to increase in the polls. The jackals are circling and it's going to be brutal. They'll try to stress her into a breakdown, bet on it. Human nature at its worst.

I take no pleasure in what they'll do, and I actually feel sorry for her - politics makes no difference to me when it comes to anyone suffering unjustifiably.

I know many will disagree vehemently with me, but I actually believe she has far more integrity in her than certain politicians who sacrifice principles (or simply have none) for wealth and fame, to look like a Winner by doing deals, or to advance the agenda of the vile rich who bought and paid for them.

She actually has a track record of bucking the establishment and standing by her principles, and I respect her for that. Maybe it's her faith that has made her ignore or be oblivious to what the Big Boys will do when someone looks like they could threaten their hold on power. She's going to need a firm faith in something!

I'm hoping that after all her trials and tribulations to come, she will discover who REALLY controls this country, and help do something constructive about it. We could use the help.

Hope for Change
NObama 2012

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I wrote my comment before I read your revelatory postscript.
I (seriously) don't know what the right thing to think is, but I do see a pattern in the constant excuses made for Obama, and I'm comforted that you didn't fall for it.
(don't take the apple!)

Ciara said...

@Draft. Thanks for the post-script. Sort of. Next time, skip the lecture.

James F Traynor said...

When you get right down to it Obama is only marginally better than Bush. And that's not good. He's an absolute menace to the lower middle class and the working poor, as his position on medicare, medicaid and social security indicate. I don't know about you but he's my enemy. I don't give a damn what party he belongs to.

Anonymous said...

"When you get right down to it Obama is only marginally better than Bush."
I actually thought he was worse based on actual policy. If we made a table comparing the policies, who would come out worse?
And where specifically does Obama come out better than Bush? (BTW, I'm not counting ACA because I don't think it's an improvement as much as a win for private insurers.)

Sorry, it wasn't meant as a lecture, I've just never understood the personal aspect of Bush or Obama - they're so far removed from the enormity of the policies they implement that it rather obscures their personality.


Ciara said...

@Draft - It was a lecture, intended or otherwise. I've been a Democrat for a great many years and occasionally even a proud one. Forgive me if my way of working out a different relationship to such a deeply-ingrained loyalty has not met with your approval. I'll need to keep working it out anyway.

4Runner said...

Check today's NYT Health section for the article "Could You Run the Country With a Migraine?". The comments were absolutely enlightening for me, a person who's had such a lifelong run of good health that I never minded paying into health insurance that I haven't needed (so far) to use. Excuse my blissful ignorance, but I never knew of so much pain out there. Yet even with the disparity of experiences reported by migraine sufferers--read 'em & weep-- I saw none which claimed to have mystical visions.

Anonymous said...


I agree wholeheartedly that Obama is the enemy. I honestly can't stand to even look at him anymore, let alone listen to him speak. There is a silver lining, though. Anyone with half a brain can now see the game is rigged in favor of the plutocrats. That's why we all should forget the clothespin vote for Barry and throw our support to whomever the New Progressive Alliance gets behind. He or she won't win, of course, but a third-party protest vote beats another wasted one for the traitor-in-chief.

-- William

Napoleon said...

@Ciara O Diomasaigh

Thanks for your comments in both postings. To say that someone sees himself as a mediator and tries to act the part is not to say that the person mediates well, or doesn't favor one side over the other, or adopts the right mediating stances, or invokes the right principles in the mediation. Surely, we have seen enough umpires, mediators, and judges to know better about these things.

What we have politically is a lot of actors performing badly. One factor making matters worse is the manner in which decisions now come to be made.

During the height of the cold war during the sixties and seventies, it was instructive watching events at the UN. It seemed as if almost every day, we could witness on tv or read in the media what major leaders around the world were saying about other nations and leaders.

We watched fiery debates and speeches in the Security Council, the General Assembly, and committees of one of these two, and heard a lot of name calling and threats. All of this was on the great policy issues of the day. We don't generally see this occur today at the UN, other than occasionally with one or two foreign leaders.

What has happened? Well, every since the Clinton administration, the discussions have gone private, in meetings of the Quartet, the Five plus One Iranian talks, the Six Parties talks involving North Korea, and secluded meetings of Western members of the Security Council.

Once a resolution is hashed out in these private forums, the resolution is put up for vote by the other members in the Security Council, with no or limited discussion, and generally without the participation in the discussion of the nation subject to the resolution.

This mode of operation has now become the standard mode of operation in our country with respect to the resolution of political issues in government. It is for this reason, amongst others, that it is important to have public education on issues and to have some leaders who dare to speak out against what is going on.


You are into serious misreadings of what I have said. Your quotes of what I have said and what you say I have said have little in common. And so, I am left with reiterating what I said.

John in Lafayette said...

@ Draft:

I'm afraid I have to agree. I can't think of a single policy decision Obama has made that Bush wouldn't have also, and that includes the ACA. Remember, Bush gave us the Medicare prescription plan which, while ostensibly a good thing, turned out to be nothing more than a huge giveaway to big pharma, much as the ACA has turned out to be a huge giveaway to big insurance.

What, for me, makes Obama worse than Bush is that we knew this was where Bush was coming from all along. Obama had us believing he was going to look out for the middle class and the poor.

In retrospect we should have known when Obama managed to raise over $800 million for his 2008 campaign. When was the last time a Democrat managed to bury a Republican in campaign spending the way Obama did McCain? Obama liked to brag about how he had so many small contributers, but you don't raise $800 million twenty bucks at a time. The money had to come from somewhere, and we now have all too good an idea of just where it did come from.

With this sellout of Medicare and Social Security, Obama's got to go, and at this point I really don't much care who replaces him. We need to put Democrats back in charge of the Democratic party if we're ever going to get Social Security and Medicare back. If we can't get a Sanders or a Warren to challenge Obama, I'm seriously thinking of working for Huntsman, at least through the primaries.

Karen Garcia said...

Have you read the comments appended to the Oliver Sachs link in my post? Several recounted hallucinations in their auras that were not entirely unpleasant. One person reported seeing angels. Sounds pretty mystical to me. Apparently, migraine disease is as individual as the sufferer. At least now there are more effective, preventive medicines than there were 20 or so years ago. My point is, there is more to migraines than excruciating pain. And so far, Bachmann has not described the other phenomena which just might explain her religious fervor, not to mention her rigid ideation.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

William - Just for the record, the clothespin symbol was anti-Obama and anti-corporate agenda. The idea Jay put forth was the clothespin was such a humble but unusual thing to be wearing around that it might encourage conversation amongst strangers. The wearer could explain that it was a symbol of protest about the way Main Street has been abandoned by both the Republican and Democratic parties. If the listener became interested, the clothespin is a cheap enough item that the wearer could pass his or hers along and easily replace it. I, for one, thought it was a charming and potentially effective way of getting people connected about the REAL issues threatening our country. The clothespin proposal was said ironically but I actually think the idea has some merit.

Daft and John - I too have come to see Obama as worse than Bush, not only because Bush was a lot more upfront about who he was and who he was working for (and therefore more honest about it) but also because as long as Obama is the leader of the Democratic Party, he is standing in the way of a truly progressive candidate running in 2012. As Karen said in yesterday’s column, we have a uni-party in this country. I wish we could scrap the whole Two Party System (which is clearly a failure) and demand a Parliamentary System of government, but our best hope is to drag the Democrats back in a more progressive direction. This is going to be made much harder because Obama is a Republican posing as a Democrat making our choices for President in 2012 Republican or Republican.

Personally, I think our only hope is to organise ourselves as a block of voters and to threaten to boycott Obama in 2012 unless some of our demands for truly progressive legislation are met. Aside from supporting Progressive candidates in all levels of government, holding out on our vote is really the only power we have to evoke change – and even that is iffy.

Ciara - I liken what you are going through as the Five Stages of Grief. Denial, I just couldn’t believe Obama was such a sell-out. There must be another explanation for his behaviour. Anger, what was the jerk doing not going after the bankers and not even entertaining a Public Option? Bargaining (I stayed a long time in this stage), if Obama will just vote against the Bush Tax Cuts, support Elizabeth Warren, speak out about land mines, throw me any kind of a bone AT ALL, I will continue to support him. Depression, our country is doomed; we have been tricked and betrayed. Acceptance, yes we have been tricked and betrayed but I am going to go down fighting. Yes, Obama is a slug and a traitor but there is still work to do and we can’t give up. - Tell me what you think. Oh, and by the way, some people go through the stages in a different order or even skip a stage. I think I had such hope for Obama and for change, that his betrayal was like a death to me - It was the death of hope.

Last, the migraine. My best friend gets the auras. She says it is like an LSD trip and even suggested (interestingly enough coming from an atheist) that it almost felt like what she would expect a religious experience to feel like.

Whether or not Michelle Bachman is sincere and consistent in her views, to me, is irrelevant. She has dangerous views and takes dangerous and ignorant positions on important issues. Not raising the debt ceiling until we cut Social Security and Medicare while continuing to keep all these stupid wars going is irresponsible to say the least.

John in Lafayette said...

Headline on Yahoo news today:

"Unemployment Numbers Jump Unexpectedly | Stock Market Sharply Higher"

Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Napoleon said...

Like Karen, "(m)y desire to see her (Michele Bachmann) not become president has nothing to do with her health issues." and I find problematical the "Rovian smear campaign". There are other reasons to tread with caution in this area.

The phenomenon of women running for the presidential nomination of one of the two major parties and having a serious chance of winning, is still relatively new. How this meshes with the health disclosure requirements has not yet been fully explored, particularly with respect to medical circumstances which may have a disproportionate impact upon women.

This is not an area in which I am knowledgeable but migraine sufferers may disproportionately be women.

Second, a large number of women alive today experienced their coming of age during the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, time periods when there were less freedoms for women and less fulfillment for many in their lives.

I shouldn't therefore be surprised, though this is purely conjecture, if the mystical visions or aura reported in the past by some women in these groups were similar to those manifested by members of other groups suffering comparable loss of political and social freedoms, namely, visions in the form of deliverance, whether religiously framed or otherwise. After all, virtually all of the slave songs and spirituals were about deliverance. In the spirituals, deliverance is intimately bound up with forgiveness, prayer, relief, reconciliation, and dreams.

Beyond migraines, there is the question of how the health disclosure requirements, when applied to women, should treat prior abortions or miscarriages.

Prior or existing breast cancers, condition disproportionately also affecting women, are relevant but public education needs to be such as to not automatically deter women with prior breast cancer from running. Nor is it clear that disclosure of the nature of restorative work done on the breast will be illuminating on a woman candidate's qualifications.

The area still seems a work in progress where further understanding, education, guidelines, and caution may be necessary.

Anonymous said...

"Prior or existing breast cancers, condition disproportionately also affecting women, are relevant but public education needs to be such as to not automatically deter women with prior breast cancer from running. Nor is it clear that disclosure of the nature of restorative work done on the breast will be illuminating on a woman candidate's qualifications."

Surely you jest. How is it that breast cancer disclosure should be any different from the need for disclosure of any other pathology?

See: Tsongas, Paul; non-Hodgkins lymphoma; 1992 Presidential campaign.


Napoleon said...

"Prior or existing breast cancers, condition disproportionately also affecting women, are relevant..."